Lorraine’s Laws: Putting Organizational and Personal Values to Work

A Mother’s Day post by B. Kim Barnes

There is a lot of discussion in the media these days about values. Because the work we do often involves organizational values and their application to decision-making, I have followed these discussions with great interest. In too many organizations, values are either bland and non-controversial statements that are too broad to be applied clearly to any decision, or statements that are made and then not acted upon, leading to cynicism and comments about the leadership “not walking the talk.”  I was influenced many decades ago by Sidney Simon of the University of Massachusetts who talked about the difference between aspirations (what we would like to believe in and represent) and values (what we act on and apply to our decision-making every day).

I had occasion to reflect on this recently, as I was working with an organization that intends to change its culture.  They are articulating and specifying their values, which have been implicit in the work they have done over many years.   Next, they will look at how to “operationalize” them so they become tools for decision-making.  It’s been my experience that organizations, large and small, rarely need to change their values – they need to remember them and to think through what they really mean; then translate them into decisions and actions.

It is difficult to think about and work with organizational values without reflecting on personal values.  When I think of my personal values, I think first of my mother, Lorraine Shapiro.  She was a woman of great presence, grace, warmth, and moral authority.  She was a high school track athlete in Minneapolis, a rebellious daughter, a mezzo-soprano who worked for several years to fund a year living and singing in New York that her father wouldn’t support, a wife and mother who made a rich life for her family with very limited resources.  In her mid-fifties she went to work (her first paid job since her early twenties) at Kaiser Permanente in L.A. as a receptionist to make ends meet and became a beloved and admired employee there for twenty years.  In retirement, she moved to be nearer her family and we were blessed with her presence and wisdom for ten years.  A few years ago, I reflected on what I had learned from her about how to live one’s values.  Those values in my family included, among others, fairness, honesty, respect, courage, humility, self-reliance, responsibility, commitment, learning, and generosity of spirit.  I do try (and often fail) to live them every day in my life and my work.  Her principles for making values live – mostly gleaned from what she did, not what she said – I call them “Lorraine’s Laws.”

Here they are:

  • Treat everyone with kindness and respect. Look for and expect the best from people (family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc.) – pass on compliments and positive feedback; let people know what they are doing right. Avoid gossip and negative comments about others.
  • Don’t cry over spilled milk.  Acknowledge losses, mistakes and failures; then move on.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you and forgive yourself for the wrongs you have done in the past, once you have done everything you can to repair the damage.
  • Value and seek to understand people who are different from you; talk to and learn from people who are different from you in many ways.  Be interested in what others have to offer, regardless of their age, position, occupation, education, ethnic background, etc.  Seek a diversity of opinion.
  • Contribute in a positive way to your community.  Participate in the political process. Give money or effort to causes you believe in.  Don’t expect other people to do your work for you.
  • Avoid defensiveness.  Accept responsibility for what you have chosen to do, even if it didn’t turn out as you hoped or expected.
  • Avoid self-righteousness and judgment.  Be self-critical; don’t let yourself get away with getting “too big for your boots”.
  • Avoid self-dramatization and self-importance; don’t pout and don’t whine.  Laugh at your own foolishness; take yourself lightly.
  • Use both your mind and your heart in making decisions.  Think about the impact of your decisions on others.
  • Learn all the time.  Keep an open mind; always listen to new ideas and information even if it conflicts with what you think you already know for sure.
  • Love and appreciate your family and friends – and provide whatever support is needed for one another to be successful.
  • Cherish your heritage and pass on what you can.
  • Use your talents; do what you can with what you have where you are.
  • Stand up and speak out for what you believe in even though you know your opinion may be unpopular.
  • If you have an issue with someone, talk it out.  Don’t hold on to resentments, especially “within the family.”
  • Bring your whole self to your work, whatever it is.  Demonstrate your love and commitment to those whom you touch in your work.
  • Don’t come down to the level of people who treat you rudely or unfairly.  Find a way to rise to the occasion and keep your dignity.
  • Enjoy your life; it is a blessing.

I have had the good fortune to benefit from this wisdom, falling short and trying again, learning along the way.  I hope the ongoing discussion of personal, political, and organizational values leads us all to reflect on what we share, to respect our differences, and to put our values to work to create stronger and more principled families, organizations, and communities.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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